Nesbitt, Allister slam failure to move on Stormont opposition

Mike Nesbitt set out some of the UUP's main election policies at the party's general meeting
Mike Nesbitt set out some of the UUP's main election policies at the party's general meeting

Both the UUP and TUV have hit out at the failure to make good on a pledge to create an official opposition within Stormont.

In a wide-ranging speech at the weekend, setting out his party’s main policies ahead of the May 7 election, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt pointed out that fewer than 48 hours remain to deliver on one of the key elements of the Stormont House Agreement.

In his address at the party’s annual general meeting, he also aired a proposal to increase the minimum wage, and a plan to make firms which take on public contracts offer apprenticeships.

The Stormont House Agreement had said: “Arrangements will be put in place by the Assembly by March 2015 to enable those parties which would be entitled to ministerial positions in the Executive, but choose not to take them up, to be recognised as an official opposition and to facilitate their work.

“These measures will include: a) Provision for financial and research assistance (from within existing Assembly budgets, keeping these changes cost neutral); and b) Designated speaking rights including the opportunity to ask questions and table business sufficient to permit the parties to discharge their opposition duties.”

Mr Nesbitt stated: “Our own party executive reserved judgment on the so-called Stormont House Agreement at Christmas. From bitter experience, we saw the pitfalls. The lack of detail. The suspicion there were side deals. The concerns about implementation.

“Members, we have a very wise executive!”

In particular, he added: “For example, arrangements for an official opposition at Stormont were to be agreed by the end of this month, which is Tuesday. There’s little sign of it.”

Also airing concerns about the failure was TUV leader Jim Allister, who said: “March 2015 is all but gone, but nothing has appeared. Just another con, it seems.”

He added: “More and more, it seems, the Stormont House Agreement was a publicity stunt, designed as mere sticking plaster for the crisis of the moment. Three months on, what has it produced? Nothing.”

However, Mr Nesbitt also used his speech to warn against being “totally dismissive” of the Stormont House pact, adding that it at least ensures a commitment to create an opposition on paper, something which could usher in “the next mature step to normal politics in Northern Ireland – if it ever happens”.